Firefighters chipping in to complete work, even with fund cuts

Keri Thornton | Daily Press

Tahlequah Fire Department Chief Ray Hammons said the 2019 Fire and Rescue truck cost approximately $135,000. The vehicle was purchased with funds from a reserve account and was brought to the station on Friday.

The Tahlequah Fire Department is doing some upgrades on its own and is reaping the benefits.

Despite budget cuts TFD took, Fire Chief Ray Hammonds said his crew is working to meet needs. TFD ended up taking a loss of $60,000 from last year, but funds that were set aside into a reserve account just bought in a brand-new fire and rescue truck.

“We had it budgeted using our reserved account that we have had saved up for three or four years,” said Hammons. “We put money back every year for large purchase items, like for fire trucks.”

New fire trucks typically costs anywhere from $130,000 to $750,000. Hammons said TFD has been strict about putting back money every year, and the reward is worth every penny.

“Capt. Mark Whittmore and Chief Casey Baker did specs on this truck from the top to the bottom. They drew the specs up and made sure that this truck was built to perform rope rescues, swift-water rescues, auto extrication, confined space rescues – any kind of rescue or extrication,” he said.

TFD has been setting back money for the new truck, and Baker and Whittmore began drawing up plans in September 2018. Usually, fire trucks will receive substantial wear and tear, even though they don’t have a large number of miles on them.

“When they’re sitting there, they are running, pumping and working. Then seals and parts go bad, and then you have to deal with manufacturing parts becoming outdated and those aren’t made anymore. After 20 years, it’s time to put a new truck in,” said Hammons.

Hammons said he is able to save the department a lot of money by having his men work on repairs and projects. A new parking lot is being built on the north side of the building, and firefighters are the ones putting it together.

“The thing about our fire department – and one of the things that I am most proud of – is that when the Street Department loaned us its equipment, my guys did all of the dirt work, posts, concrete and hauled the stuff in and hauled the stuff out,” said Hammons. “It saved us money because these guys are doing all of the work.”

He said his men have had their vehicles broken into while they are working, and the new parking lot will be fenced in, with a locked door.

“They want to keep their truck in a safe place and they want to serve; they want nice things down here and they work hard to keep it that way,” said Hammons.

In July, the chief said he accepted the fact that TFD faced loss of funding, but he promised they will continue to fight fires and to help people.

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